About five months ago I met this amazing man and we kind of fell into a long distance relationship. I am in grad school in the US and he’s in the UK here he owns his own business. He’s smart, achingly kind, adventurous, funny, charming and empathetic. I’m really attracted to him. He’s basically everything I’ve been looking for in a partner and then some.
Yet here is what is happening: I feel like squirming, like a fish in a net. I find myself rocked by doubts. But they are usually not about him- but about me. I am constantly worried if he likes me, if he finds me boring, if he’s going to wake up one day and realise being with me is too much work and I’m not worth it.
I spent my spring break with him where we went away to this romantic little weekend in the countryside and instead of feeling a calm sense of peace with him all I felt was panic. Panic that he would be bored, panic that I was not interesting. I couldn’t shake it. I was wracked by anxiety.
I also find myself nitpicking with him. For example, I worry that when we discuss ideas we only discuss them for 20 minutes- not an hour like I used to with my ex. I want him to tell me, with words, how he feels about me like: all the time. Even though he SHOWS me in a million different ways.
There’s a lot I could tell you about myself to provide some background context on who I am and why I feel this way. I guess the important thing is, I know my shit. I know what I do in the world that is incompatible with falling in love and I’ve come a long way in terms of being able to manage that same shit. I’ve struggled with anxiety, I’ve had a loving albeit chaotic childhood and I’m a very type-A, high achieving person. And I feel that today, after a LOT of work, I’m starting to feel OK with who I am.
I know that I have a hard time feeling vulnerable and truthfully, I know he does too. I know that I tend to keep one foot on the ground and I SO want to change that. And I feel like I could fall in love with this new person if I would just let myself. But here’s what I don’t know:
Is my anxiety self inflicted, is it a product of our long distance or is it because something is fundamentally not right with us? How can I possibly know when I feel unsure in any relationship that I’m in? How can I not throw away a good thing?
I want to trust my gut, but my gut and my anxious spiraling brain can sometimes feel like the same thing and only one is worth paying attention to.
Falling in love or running scared?
Dear Falling In Love Or Running Scared,
You sweet darling, I want you to have a heart full-to-bursting of love and peace and calm and joy. And it sounds like that’s what you want, too. So how can you lay down your anxiety and love with your maximum heart, your full mind and your robust self? How can you pull out of the shadows and ignore fear?
You just do it.
Which I know, it sounds like a non-answer or a Nike ad, and we want there to be more to it. And yet, there is not. Much of the seeking in the world of an answer comes from not liking the answer that is before us, within us, because it is hard and scary and not as much fun as pretending the answer lies just over there and that we will get to it if we just ponder and search some more but right now we should eat a little Ben and Jerry’s and watch a little bad TV and think about what the answer might be instead of dealing with what the answer is.
But you have a supple mind and a loving heart. You can do face the answer and do this. No one is a bigger scaredy-cat than me, and, more or less, I show up for love now, after 20 years of fear and lies and bullshit and drama.
You just do it. Or not. But the not part is sad and let’s not be sad.
The truth is we don’t so much let go of fear as just say, “I’m afraid and I’m going to love fully, anyway.” What’s the alternative, to pretend to not have your feelings or try to tamp them down so that you can tell yourself you’ll be less hurt if you get left? Hmmm. Better to be in it and hurt than guarded and living half a life and protected. Which, really, we’re not so much anyway, when we play these half in and half out games.
The only thing to do is to stand in front of another person whom we admire and say, “Here I am.” And see what happens. They might run and hide or they might show you their true selves, too. But the only thing you can control is what you do. A bitter truth for those of us who want answers and certainty before we show our hearts.
Me, I’m a want answers sort. I want to know that the other person is in, in deep, before I am willing to be committed at all. For many years – many, many, many years – I made a point of playing the field until a partner had committed their fidelity to me and even then I’d be a hold out and elusive on the emotional front until I was “sure” they weren’t going to leave. They never did leave – but who cares? I wasn’t happy, I wasn’t being honest with any of them, not fully, and as a result even the partners who I could have maybe built a good thing with I never did, so rule by fear was I. We never even had a chance to get to real love. So I left them, every one. And you bet I was hurt. Hurt over what I’d done – not been in my own life, for starters – and who I’d been to these people and how dumb I was . And then I’d do it all over again with the next partner in about six months.
When I met Adam, my husband, and it was starting to become a big thing, our relationship, I was very plain with him about things. About who I was. About all my shitty charades of the past. About all my crimes and misdemeanors. And, about how I felt about him. About what I wanted. About how scared I was. Terrified even. And that was a good, great thing. I was vulnerable and then he was and it let us have love on a real ground, a solid ground. Our ordinary magic has been humming along for years now. And I was not sure, I had doubts, I knew he was good and imperfect, just like me. But I stood in front of him and said, “Here I am, who are you?” And that is how love is made. From truth and commitment and trying, not certainty and vacillation and hedging.
And, so you know, the terrifying part only lasted a little tiny smidge of a bit and wasn’t even so bad. Balzac was right of course that all our worst fears lie in anticipation. Jumping in the cold water is never as bad as thinking about it, as inching in.
Sweet friend, you can trust your gut and your brain. You can say, “I want this and I’m going to be in it and this man seems like a good man and I’ll find out. If he turns out not to be, that’s on him, not me. If we wind up not working out, it won’t be because I wasn’t fully here. I’m anxious and I’m scared that this will all fall apart or that he’s not the right one, but I’ll find out, and if it falls apart I’ll be ok.” AND YOU WILL BE.
I try to make sure my feelings follow facts. It has made my emotional life so happy and calm. When I’m upset, it’s rooted in truth and when I’m angry it is, too. Ditto joy and happiness. And when my feelings are irrational and not about what’s really happening in the world, I know that’s a bad day and that I need to take care of me. Because feelings should follow facts the great majority of the time or else we should think about getting help for anxiety or depression or another mood disorder. Or we need to look ourselves square into the darkest spot of our own eyes and say, “Knock off the drama.”
You talk about nitpicking with this man and faultfinding rather than just being in it and letting yourself love him. You say you want to trust him. So, OK, trust him. There is nothing keeping you from it. The answer to your fear is: love anyway.
I think we all tend to forget we get to be happy in love. We say, “Oh, I know I do.” But do you? Do you really in your softest spots, the parts of your brain where you have ever crummy thing you ever did catalogued and cross-referenced and indexed, do you know? Well, just in case, I’m here to tell you: You get to be happy in love. You get to be happy in love. Repeat after me. Put it on a post it. YGTBHIL. Remind yourself. It’s a hard thing for anyone to know. It’s a hard thing for everyone, no matter how Rockwellian our childhoods, to know. For those of us who have had to swim in an oil slick to make it into the world as mucked adults, it is, at times, nearly impossible to believe.
But believe it. You do. You get to be happy in love.
But to get there you must be present and be in it and say, “I might get hurt but by not being in it it’s self inflicted damage so I’m going to do this and see what happens.”
And of course, I’m not talking about casting your heart about to anyone or without cause, but you describe this man as a good man and a man you believe you could fall in love with. So, let yourself be in the moment. Stop letting fear of getting hurt stop you. You might get hurt. So might he. It’s a contact sport, this love thing.
Get in there and play! Live. Be honest. Be true. Tell your man you are feeling scared. Open your heart and see what comes. Don’t go with your head or your heart but rather both. Love from both. Feel from both. You’ll see what happens with this man – and hopefully it’s a long love story for the two of you. But if not, when you act despite your own fear, you’ll see it’s a love story of your very own, no matter what.
Sending so much love,
Anna March is an active feminist whose writes regularly for Salon and The Rumpus. Her writing has appeared in dozens of other publications including The New York Times Modern Love Column, New York Magazine, Hip Mama and Tin House. She often writes about sexuality, family, secrets and the body. Her memoir and novel are forthcoming. She will be leading a workshop, “WRITING PAST SHAME: WRITING THE TOUGH STUFF WITHOUT (TOO MUCH) FEAR with Wendy Ortiz and Antonia Crane December 4- 6, 2015 in Ojai, CA. For more information, contact her at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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